Giving Up “Lent” for Lent

Here we are in the midst of the 40 days of the Lenten season before Easter, and the most common question people ask is, “What did you give up for Lent this year?”

In years past I’ve done that practice: I’ve variously sworn off fried foods, alcohol, and even doughnuts in some years. Each year I also tell people that I’ve given up smoking; I’ve never smoked, which makes that particular abstinence an easy one to keep.

I’ve come to appreciate, though, that the point of Lent isn’t necessarily to give something up, it’s to draw closer to God. If there’s something in my life that’s more important to me than God, then yes, I’m supposed to replace that with God–hence the abstaining from any of a number of habits for 40 days.

However, since the point is to get closer to God over this time, perhaps we need instead to pick something up. Pick up a Bible and read each night. Pick up a prayer habit each morning over coffee. Pick up a friend, reach out and lift her spirits during a dark time. All of these are more meaningful in building a better, more lasting relationship with God than seeing if you can make it 40 days without chocolate.

So this year I’m giving up “Lent”  for Lent–giving up the mindless giving up, and instead being more mindful of my relationship with God. I’m taking an online class on belief and grace during Lent, and that’s helped keep me framed and focused during this time. I’m being more intentional in my prayer life as well. My hope is these allow me to draw closer to God in a more significant way than ever.

Oh, and I gave up doughnuts too. Because, well, my waistline suggests that’s probably needed also. But that’s another story.

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W. C. Fields Was Partly Right

“Everybody has to believe in something. I believe I’ll have another beer.”

–W. C. Fields

W. C. Fields had a point: we all do believe in something. There’s something each person has to which he or she will hold fast as the most vital, the most cherished aspect of life. Perhaps it’s family and being surrounded by them; perhaps it’s work, striving to achieve and do more. Perhaps it’s money, especially when we’re just starting out and bills are everywhere.

Whatever it is, there’s something we prize above anything else. And so skeptics and disbelievers who say they don’t believe in any god are kidding themselves, in a way. When we’re honest with ourselves, we each have a god, we each have something we have set up in our life that is central, around which we will structure our whole world.

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The challenge of Christianity, when fully embraced and fully realized, is to not choose any of those “gods” of the world–no, not even family (see Matthew 10:37-39!)–but instead to put God at the center of our life. That’s hard! At least it can be for me. If where I put my time, my money, and my effort truly reflects my priorities, then…how many times can I actually admit I’ve put God first?

The Christian doesn’t have to embrace a monastic life, though, to be fully Christian. Over the course of our discussions here, we’ll explore some of how to keep God at the center despite having to live in the world.